My first taste of properly amazing Spanish food was in San Sebastian many years ago.
I’ll never forget it - it was in a place called Las Gandarias, a classic Basque tavern perched on a street corner in the north end of the old town.
You walk in the front door and you’re greeted by an amazing display of pintxos on the front counter.
And in the restaurant, the main event is the txuleton - an enormous rib-eye on the bone from retired ex-dairy cow.
Served perfectly charred from an open fire grill, and laced with big flakes of sea salt.
All you need now is a great bottle
We got to know Jon, the sommelier at Las Gandarias, quite well.
(We went 6 nights out of 7, stick with what you know and all that).
One of his picks really made the food sing. It was a bottle of Garnacha from Méntrida, a place I’d never heard of before.
Its smooth and powerful style was a perfect match for the intensely beefy, buttery flavours of the steak.
Introducing Spain’s best kept secret
Méntrida is a high, hot and remote region, overlooked by the Gredos mountains just west of Madrid.
It’s barely known in Spain, let alone the rest of the world.
I was there in June two years ago, and I can confirm that for this pasty Irishman it’s an unforgiving environment. It was 41°C at midday!
Thankfully the grapes fare a lot better - the hot days ripen the grapes with lots of flavour, and the very cool nights keep them fresh and balanced.
No wonder the wines have historically been shipped in bulk up to Rioja, to give them extra colour and power.
For years I searched for perfect Méntrida wine, but kept drawing blanks.
Was it just another holiday wine that I got too excited about?
Then along came Maite Sánchez - try her wines here
A couple of years back during Barcelona Wine Week, I got a tip-off from a journalist friend that I needed to try the wines of Bodegas Arrayán from Méntrida.
They were pouring their wines at a secret underground tasting away from the main fair.
I got there and it was the most stunning venue - an old warehouse turned into a bright and airy art gallery, but still retaining a grungy feel. Things were looking up.
But alas, the room was full of natural wines, man buns and hipsters.
(Nothing against all that of course, but I’m trying to make a living here).
Bingo - I've struck gold
I then spotted Maite Sánchez, the winemaker at Arrayán, and made a beeline through the crowds for her table.
And my insider tip was spot on - the wines were head and shoulders above anything else that was there.
Her Suerte de Arrayán was exactly the Méntrida I’d been looking for all these years.
It was soft and delicate like a good Burgundy, but had real power and finesse at the same time.
It brought me right back to San Sebastian, and a craving for melt-in-your-mouth Basque cow suddenly hit.
Maite’s new vintages have just arrived - get them here
When members asked for more keenly priced and bigger reds in our survey last month, I got straight on the phone to Maite to get a shipment of her new vintages moving.
I’m delighted to say that they’ve just arrived, so here’s what you can get:
- La Suerte de Arrayán Garnacha 2018 - a single vineyard, high altitude Garnacha from 70 year-old vines in the Gredos mountains. Think Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but with extra elegance and freshness. A total steal at the price - €20.92 for members
- Arroyo de Arrayán Blanco 2021 - Spanish whites are flying right now and this gem of a wine is one of the big reasons why. An aromatic blend of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, from the vineyards just outside Arrayán’s winery in Finca La Verdosa. €21.98 member price
- El Bufón de Arrayán Albillo Real 2022 - an extremely rare white from just across the Gredos mountains in Cebreros, this is a golden and full-bodied white with hints of citrus, honey and tropical flavours, and a distinct minerality from the special granite soils in the vineyard. €21.98 member price
Ask and you shall receive...
The member feedback came back loud and clear from our survey. People want more big reds, and more wines in the €20-25 mark.
Méntrida is just one of those places that over delivers this, and then some.
So thank you for your feedback and there's plenty more to come - stay tuned!