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John Radford's UK blog features Fariña


John Radford's UK blog features Fariña Lunch at The Lanesborough with Manuel Fariña

30-Jun-10 - To the Lanesborough for Lunch with Manuel Fariña, widely regarded as the 'father' of the modern wines of Toro. I first visited him in November, 1988 when his main bodega was out of town and called Bodegas Porto. He had to change the name since Spain had joined the then EEC in 1986 and it clashed with the DOC Porto in Portugal. Also, in order to claim the DO Toro (established in 1987) he had to move inside the city limits, and was in the process of building a new bodega. We were able to look at his new stainless steel tanks, one of which had a large dent in the top. I asked him whether this was some experimental topological aid to fermentation, but it wasn't: "It fell off a lorry" was his remark. My other abiding memory of that visit was meeting his father, Salvador (then retired), who had founded the family estate in 1942, and his youngest son (now in his 20s) who was then a toddler. I still have a photograph of the family as it then was.

Since then Manuel's wines, under the 'Colegiata' brand (named after the collegiate church in Toro) have become benchmark wines for Toro quality - not necessarily the best nor the most expensive, but expressive of Toro's terroir and its native grape, the Tinta de Toro (a sibling of the Tempranillo).

So, it was a great pleasure to be invited to lunch to taste his new vintages, and meet again Nicola Thornton, who is the bodega's export director. A quick word about her: I first met her in 1993 when I visited Bodegas Bajoz, where she was the export manager. Bajoz was a co-op in Toro and gradually increased its quality levels to get into the export market, largely due to Nicola. Then, a few years ago, the management decided that they were now firmly in the market and didn't need her or her team any more, and she was made redundant. She was snapped up by Fariña immediately. Since then Bajoz got into serious financial difficulties and was eventually sold to the F&eaucte;lix Solís group as part of their 'Pagos del Rey' empire, which some might say is a bit of poetic justice, although the bodega is very likely to thrive under the Solís banner.

Anyway, back to the lunch. I'd interviewed Heinz Beck, who is the executive chef at Apsley's at the Lanesborough, when he relaunched the restaurant in September, 2009 so I was looking forward to the combination of Manuel's wines and Heinz Beck food. I don't know if you've been to the Lanesborough, which used to be a hospital, but Apsley's restaurant is in a towering atrium (it used to be a courtyard where the ambulances turned round) with a décor that is, well, I think you could kindly describe it as 'eclectic' - not to everyone's taste. Apsleys at The Lanesborough - 'eclectic' décor. Pic.: Lanesborough website

The service is, however, impeccable. I had lunched there for the Beck interview nine months previously and not been back since, but the headwaiter greeted me saying 'glad to see you again, Mr Radford', and had also remembered my mustard allergy (I'd asked for one of the dishes without mustard-seed dressing the previous September) when it came to the main course. Either he had an astonishing memory or had been extremely well briefed, but in either case it was very impressive, even to a cynical, pissed-old-hack like me.

Anyway, we kicked off with Dueba old-vines sparkling Malvasía, which I had never had before. It's classified as Vino de Mesa Espumoso as the DO Toro doesn't include sparkling wines. He's been making it for five years from Malvasía and Albillo and it has a good, clean fruit, fresh acidity and a pleasant, if rather lightweight finish - 15/20

Next up was the 2009 Colegiata Malvasía Joven which had a bright, herby fruit, some richness on the mid-palate and a 'soft-fruit' finish - 15/20 The food began to arrive at this point, so the marks for the wines have to be viewed in that context: an amuse-bouche of seafood salad with lobster, prawn, leaves and a kind of fish sausage which was delicious, if a little indeterminate, with octopus and a mango dressing.

With the Colegiata Malvasía we had black ink squid fagottelli with Atlantic fish and peppers. The head chef here is Massimiliano Blasone, who has worked with Heinz Beck for many years, and his pasta is legendary. This was no exception, although I wrote in my notes 'good but fishy'. I'm not sure what that means in retrospect, or quite what I expected a fish dish to taste like, but these are the things you think of on the spur of the moment.

Then it was on to the reds, with 2009 Colegiata Tinta de Toro, another joven wine with all the bright, raspberry fruit of the Tempranillo, rich and jammy on the mid-palate with crisp acidity and a clean finish - 16/20

This was served with pappa al pomodoro with beef fillet and avocado which was an amazing tableau with two small 'ships' of avocado mousse with fillet of beef 'sails', passing, as it were in the night, on a sea of tomato purée - presumably the red sea - all on a 'baby pizza'. Delicious and quirky.

The main course was roasted pigeon royal with pearl onions and a mustard seed sauce, and, as I mentioned earlier, before I could ask for it without the sauce, the waiter had already arranged this with the chef in advance. Service, eh? With this we had the 2006 Gran Colegiata Crianza (French oak) which had big, dark 'inky' fruit with some richness, crisp tannins and a musky, subtle finish - 17/20

The selection of Italian cheeses from such as Lombardia and Piemonte was exceptional, served with warm bread straight from the oven. This came with the 1989 Gran Colegiata which was perfectly mature - lovely, ripe fruit, rich, dark hints and a soft, endless finish - 18/20

We finished off with a cremoso dessert with a 'chocolate brownie', toffee and raspberries with orange petals, and Val de Reyes Dulce (VdlT Castilla y León), an unfortified sweet red made with grapes which were harvested as raisins. It had that rancio nose, giving way to soft sweetness on the palate and a hint of tannin on the finish. It was an excellent wine but somehow didn't quite go with the creamy, chocolatey pudding. 18/20, though.

So, an excellent lunch, great wines, and good company, and also good to see Manuel and Nicola again. If you find yourself at Apsley's I do urge you to try the pasta - it's among the best I've ever tasted, and the fagottelli carbonara is unbelievable. And look out for Fariña wines: they're widely available in the UK and represent excellent value for money.

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Bodegas Fariña (D.O. TORO)
Camino del Palo s/n
49.800 Toro (Zamora - Spain)

Bodegas Fariña (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León)
Crtra. de Moraleja s/n
49.151 Casaseca de las Chanas (Zamora - Spain)

Tel: +34 980 57 76 73 Fax: +34 980 57 77 20

Wine in moderation